- Marty Smith, ESPN
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It's always good to get back home and be reminded of what's it really all about.
I'm a huge Roush Fenway fan, and I have a few questions about my team. What's the latest on Greg Biffle? Will he stay or will some other team pay him too much to say no? And what about David Ragan?! Give him some love, man!
-- Samantha Jacobs, Charlotte, N.C.
Biffle first, Samantha. Big money is certainly floating around out there for him. Teams offer drivers like Biffle -- who is widely considered among the most talented wheelmen in Cup -- stupid money just to sit in the seat. Elite drivers make millions just to fire the engine each week, not including their respective percentage of weekly race winnings, personal endorsements and such.
Successful, marketable drivers have a lot of leverage. But it's quite rare to be in Biffle's position. There are a thousand very talented drivers all over this country, but only a select few get that key opportunity for destiny. And only a select few of those are able to capitalize on it. And only a select few of those win. And only a select few of those win enough to earn the leverage Biffle has right now.
Question is, what does he want? Does he want to pad his bank account or contend for more wins? He'd make less money at Roush than at some other organizations, but the difference is likely marginal. And he can win at Roush Fenway. Say what you want, but few teams offer that variable these days.
That's why I think he'll stay put, despite his recent frustrations about his team. He said at Richmond he was sure he'd stay at Roush. I believe that.
As for Ragan, I couldn't be more impressed. I was discussing that with him at Darlington on Friday evening. He was a pinball as a rookie, but he's matured tremendously as a driver this season. Last year he had a ridiculous learning curve. Not only was he a rookie, but he was a rookie driving three different types of cars -- the Busch car, the old Cup car and the COT.
I'm glad Jack Roush had patience with him, because he truly is talented. And he's a good kid, too. He had the quote of the weekend at Darlington. In discussing his fifth-place finish in the Dodge 500, he said it reminded him of grade-school math. Here he was with Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in front of him and Matt Kenseth in his rearview mirror.
"It was like, which one doesn't belong?" Ragan chuckled. "Me."
He's proving otherwise, huh?
Since this whole Junior vs. Shrub [Kyle Busch] fiasco has now reached critical mass in the overblown hype category, I wanted to clarify something. On this site, and everywhere else for that matter, it seems the hot ticket is to say young Shrub is the new Dale Earnhardt.
Interesting, but ultimately flawed and rather stupid. Now I will be first to admit that the elder Earnhardt (in his early days) and young Shrub share some uncanny on-track traits -- like knocking people around, ruffling feathers and generally not caring if folks like it or not.
But let me be clear, aside from a shared affinity for on-track altercations, the two could not be further apart. Earnhardt grew to be the people's champ by being known as a scrapper who came up rough and always stayed true to his blue-collar roots. An Everyman who people could relate to. Especially those of us who work hard all week and tow to local short tracks on the weekend.
Shrub, on the other hand, comes off as more of a petulant child in a fast car. The kind of kid that many of us see every weekend at our local tracks. He's got the rich dad and the best stuff and brings enough people with him every weekend to keep him from catching a beating after the races are over.
Folks in the media seem to think that like Earnhardt, Shrub will eventually race his way into our hearts with his aggressive, caution-to-the-wind style and fulfill the role of the lovable black hat that has been missing since Earnhardt's death.
Shrub can wreck all the people he wants and win all the races he wants, but he will never find a place in the hearts of the working man. Whether it's perception or reality, he will never be viewed as one of us.
-- Tom S. Logan, Iowa
I asked Busch about that at Darlington, Tom, and he (of course) admitted it was flattering to draw comparisons to Ironhead, but made it abundantly clear that he's just trying to be his own man. That's good, because he ain't Earnhardt. It's actually unfair to Busch to go there, but I get it.
Maybe I'm wrong, but I just don't think stories like Earnhardt's could happen anymore. Poor kids don't much race these days, and the thought of a ninth-grade dropout making it to Cup is ridiculous.
Busch does drive like a young Earnhardt, though, and damn is it fun to watch. I don't care if you hate him, you can't deny the entertainment value of watching him work. I marvel at it. And hear this: He's gaining fans faster than any driver this side of Dirty Mo Acres. Don't believe me? Take a peek at the souvenir trailers at your next race.
Frankly, I think he's missing a huge opportunity by not fully embracing the Bad Boy role. (I'm not sure his sponsor would be too huge on that, given its demographic.)
Even Junior admits that from a driving perspective Busch resembles a pre-'89 Big E. But don't ask about similarities in personality. Junior doesn't want to hear it.
"Personality-wise, they are polar opposites," Junior said. "Give me a break. You knew my dad better than that. Give my dad a little more credit than that."
With the economy the way it is, and with how expensive it is to race, is there really room for the All-Star race anymore?
-- Sammy Whitehead, Coral Gables, Fla.
Sammy ... seriously, dude? Let's do the math: The best drivers in the world. No points and thus no conscience. A million-dollar sprint. Under the lights. Checkers or wreckers. Trophy or steering wheel. The whole thing.
Hell, yes, there's room for it.
Look at history. Some of the greatest moments on four wheels happened in the NASCAR All-Star extravaganza -- the Pass in the Grass in '87? Ridiculous. I remember 1998 well, too, when Jeff Gordon ran out of gas in the Chromalusion car and Mark Martin sped by to win. My former brother-in-law (long story) was an Earnhardt fan, and we about went to blows that night.
And then, Sammy, there's one of the greatest races ever: One Hot Night -- Davey, Kyle and a whole truckload of ... well, let's just say guts. Davey was the man.
Are you on Rick Hendrick's payroll?
-- Tim Brommer, Philadelphia
About as much as you're on Terrell Owens' payroll, Timmy. Go Cowboys.
I understand the economy is in bad shape and that contributes to the reason why some racetracks do not sell out. What are some of the other key contributing factors? I saw the race in Cali and it was pretty bare in some of the stands. If this doesn't change, is NASCAR going to reconsider going to that venue?
-- Mayra Baltierrez, Aurora, Ill.
Several factors contribute to poor attendance, Mayra, including weather, the race's date on the calendar and market saturation. Take Atlanta. The racing at Atlanta is always good, but they struggle to sell tickets. It's weird. I have to presume a major part of that is because Atlanta is fighting for the same dollar as Daytona, Darlington, Lowe's and Talladega.
And speaking of fighting for the same dollar -- California just struggles in general in that regard. There's so much to do out there it's tough to entice fans to come out to the track. That's why the rainout in February hurt them so much. The one thing Fontana always had going for it was great weather, but the past two weekends there have produced a rain-delayed Monday show and a 110-degree oven.
California does all right. It doesn't have to be packed to be successful. There can be 15,000 empty seats in Fontana, and they've still sold more tickets than some tracks do when sold out. You just have to wonder how a second Vegas date would affect Fontana.
That's my time, folks. Check out the Pit Crew Challenge. It's intense. And how great is that song "Shiftwork" by Chesney and Strait? Seven to three ... Three to 11 ... Eleven to seven ... A big ol' pile of Shiiiiiiiiiiffffftwork. So clever. Love it.
Marty Smith is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. He can be reached at ESPNsider@aol.com.